Scary Movie Review: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

For Halloween week, I’m watching and reviewing highly-regarded horror films that I’ve never seen before.

Title: Night of the Living Dead
Release Date: October 1, 1968
Director: George Romero
Production Company: Night of the Living Dead

Watching this move for the first time means trying to forget all you know about it from the cultural soup that marinates us.  George Romero pretty much invents the rules for a zombie apocalypse story as well as kicking off the trend of graphically gory horror films of the 1970s and 1980s.  It’s also remarkable for having an African American actor Duane Jones in the lead role of Ben at a time when Black men were not appearing in movies as competent leaders.

Actually this movie has two lead characters with Judith O’Dea as Barbra being the point of view character for the first act of the movie.  Unfortunately, Barbra fades from significance in the narrative.  As disappointing as it that the female lead is stereotypically portrayed as helpless, O’Dea does put in compellingly authentic depiction of someone in a shock.  The other characters aren’t particularly well-acted or significant.  Karl Hardman plays Harry Cooper, the primary human antagonist who consistently challenges Duane (which also plays out as a racial divide regardless of whether it was scripted as one), but he’s a rather one-note character.

With a low budget, Night of the Living Dead shows some technical flaws (why are the live tv broadcasts from Washington in the daytime when it’s late at night in Pennsylvania?).  But Romero makes the best of these limitations with tight editing and dramatic lighting to heighten the suspense.  And even though I knew it was coming, that ending is a real kick in the gut.

Rating: ***1/2

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